Virginia's picture depicting her and her family doing charitable work.

A Contest within a Context

We publish the winning drawing and essay from the 2019 Art and Essay contest sponsored by Benedictine College.

At the 2019 New York Encounter, Benedictine College of Atchison, KS, sponsored an Art and Essay Contest open to Catholic School students in grades 1 through 5 and 6 through 8.

The contest question to be addressed was: "Describe an experience that made you feel looked at, listened to, understood, forgiven and valued just because you exist. How did this change things?"

Virginia, a fifth-grade student from Connecticut, won the Art Prize for her drawing featured in this article.

Lucius, an eighth-grade student from Florida, won the Essay Prize for his essay "Something to Start From" of which we reproduce some excerpts.

Something to Start From*

It is hard for me to recognize when I am loved for just being me. I had a relatively normal family until I was seven. [After which] [w]ithout stable parents, I became very confused, angry, and depressed. I had a hard time trusting the adults in my life.

My early childhood experiences have made me a person that is constantly testing people to see if they will remain my friend or leave me because of my actions. I’m disrespectful, belligerent, and sometimes just plain mean. I have lost many friends in my life, some that I really loved. I have learned that not everyone is willing to put up with the way that I push their buttons. Only the people who are willing to go through these tests are the people that I can trust to love. People will always come in and out of my life, whether or not they are willing to stay is up to them.

This year, my school got a new principal. I have learned so much from him. I test him constantly and he never gets annoyed or angry at me for it. I do this because I want to make sure he is really there for me, but I have discovered that my “tests” do not push him away. He is willing to listen to my problems and simply accepts me for who I am. I have noticed that my mistakes do not define me in his eyes. I trust that he will forgive me no matter what. I feel loved by him simply because I am me.

… God has given me this life, he made me the way I am and although I do not always understand why, it has been given to me to discover myself. I often blame myself for many things, and I have learned that perhaps I am too hard on myself. I often blame myself for losing the people that I love, but I cannot force someone to love me and “stick by my side.” If they want to leave me, that is their choice but it is not my fault.

I am still a work in progress. I do not think that I will have everything figured out anytime soon. … Hopefully, if I am faithful to this friendship [with my principal], I will learn a few more things about myself. What convinces me that I am valued just for being myself is not something that has happened once in the past but something that continues to happen, something happening now

*Reproduced with permission